Henry, Tessa & Robin – Elephant Gin
With seductive packaging, a tasty gin and direct links to conservation – Elephant Gin’s spirit (in more ways than one) is captivating fans across the world with its authenticity and soul. We spoke to the three founders Henry Palmer, Robin and Tessa Gerlach, to see what life is like behind the environmentally conscious Gin.
Gin Foundry – Elephant Gin looks to have grown exponentially over 2015 in particular, becoming one of the big names to emerge internationally from Germany, what’s it been like from the inside?
R.G – It’s been a lot of hard work, but at the same time incredibly exciting! After all the time and effort we put into getting the spirit right, we were prepared to work even harder to introduce it to the various markets.
T.G – The most thrilling part has been to see the scale and size of our contribution to the cause of elephant conservation grow beyond anything we could have done on a personal level. To date, we have been able to give €70,000 to various projects through the sales of our bottles as well as events.
There is so much we have been able to achieve already with our contribution and this thought alone, is an incredible source of motivation for all of us to keep working hard!
That’s a huge contribution already! You all seem so busy – how do you share the workload of establishing Elephant Gin, especially across numerous countries?
H.P – Teamwork is everything and from the very beginning it was clear that we all complemented each other perfectly. We all have different skills, sometime different ideas, and are all team players. That makes the hard work so much easier, you all know you can trust each other to get it done.
Robin oversees all our work at the distillery, as well as the majority of our European distribution. Tessa is focusing on our marketing and PR, while also overseeing our foundations and the work we are doing with them in parts of Africa. I have the pleasure of overseeing the UK and Irish markets.
Elephant is the name of the gin, you are also linked to elephant conservation charities but what triggered the decision for you to take the plunge and create your gin in the first place?
T.G – With a true fascination for the African landscape, Robin, Henry and I all separately spent time travelling across Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Our experiences, from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to spending time working in conservation or discovering extraordinary animals and birds, triggered a deep appreciation for African wildlife, especially elephants, and the need to protect them from extinction.
Most days in the bush ended with a sundowner G&T, so all these experiences laid the foundation to create a premium gin that uses exotic botanicals and gives back to a land that inspired the product in the first place.
Presumably instilling a sense of place was the inspiration behind fusing African botanicals and the more traditional Gin ingredients?
R.G – Indeed, after all our travels to various parts of the continent, choosing African botanicals was a way for us to incorporate the Spirit of Africa. We learned a lot about the various healing properties or uses of the plants and roots and were amazed by the variety in flavours.
Needless to say, there are a number of bitter ones that didn’t make the cut! But one that still stands out for us today is Buchu, because with its subtle aromas of blackcurrant, it can be nicely combined with apple.
With all these botanicals to pick from, how long did it take to find the perfect balance and make the very first batch of Elephant Gin?
H.P – It took over a year and half, 35 attempts, a lot of incredible advice and just a little bit of luck. Luck you can never do without. We knew we wanted to ultimately create, a premium gin good enough to drink neat. This meant not only looking to the best of the category, learning from those who had gone before, but also looking towards other spirits like whisky and schnapps to see what it was that made the perfect sipping spirit. In the end we settled on four key characteristics: strength, smoothness, complexity and length. To achieve a balance of all four was a real challenge.
You’ve definitely achieved it, with all four elements incorporated into the final spirit. For those who don’t know it yet (where have they been?!), how would you describe the taste of Elephant Gin?
H.P – Elephant Gin’s blend of 14 botanicals is completely distinct from any other. It has herbaceous, fruity and spicy notes, it is complex and yet has a strikingly smooth taste, so that many people, unusually for a gin, prefer to drink it neat.
The actual gin aside for a second – with a percentage of the profits going to wildlife conservation, environmental concerns and proactive preservation is obviously a big part of the brand’s ethos. How have you been able to implement this and what have you done with the charities you sponsor in 2015?
At Big Life, rangers play a critical role in the overall elephant conservation strategy, which is why Elephant Gin’s quarterly donations have been going to one outpost in the Chyulu Hills to support ranger activities, covering anything from logistical support to ranger’s salaries, rations or equipment, depending on the area of greatest need.
At Space for Elephants, the so-called Mavela Project has been the highest priority for us. In an area near beautiful Jozini in KwaZulu Natal, unemployment is rife and so attractive for poachers seeking information and assistance from local communities. The strategy of the project is to get the communities involved by creating employment opportunities and educating people to make them aware of the value of wildlife and how to earn a living from it. We have been supporting a school, we have built hiking trails, viewing points, camp facilities with open air showers overlooking the Pongola Game Reserve, arranged and organized Mountain Bicycle races through the area and are planning much more to offer employment opportunities and attract more tourists to the area.
It’s hugely inspirational and as you mentioned at the start, you’ve actually managed to contribute a lot to those foundations already too. It’s amazing to see what can be achieved and congratulations on what you’ve done already. What are the big plans for the upcoming year for you all?
R.G – We are looking to work closely with the bar community in the main European cities, and continue to be innovative with flavours. We had a sloe gin launch in a few selected places at the end of 2015, and have more ideas on the horizon…
Lastly – there’s a lot of talk about the perfect G&T and a renewed emphasis placed on garnishes. You tend to serve it with a slice of apple, why do you think it works so well?
H.P – Fresh apples play a big part in making the gin, and it seems a natural twist. The brilliance of it is that there is very little interference with the gin and tonic itself. It keeps it fresh, pure and there is always the fun of eating it once your drink is finished. Of course, should you feel a further twist is required, a sliver of fresh ginger with the apple introduces a whole other part of our gin’s flavour profile. It really is quite delicious!
Thanks for talking to us! We’re looking forward to seeing how you all progress in 2016.
With so many gins available on the market, there’s now something out there to suit everyone. However, very few carry such a prominent corporate social responsibility agenda. With this in mind, if ever there has been a gin to champion, one that combines both tasty, delicious liquid alongside a genuine desire to be more than just a spirit in your glass and to be a force for change – Elephant Gin is it. It is an artisan product with an ethical cause at its heart and if you haven’t tried it yet, do – you won’t be disappointed.
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